Odd, but true, that many Western readers prize Rumi’s work less as a moral lodestar and resource for merging with the Absolute, and more as a vehicle for illuminating our own highly secular age. Although, to be sure, these readers also are drawn to the ecstatic and transcendental qualities of the great mystic’s work. Western admirers tend to extract Rumi from his historical context and embrace him as one of their own. Not a few have seized on his poetry as a springboard for their own creative expressions, including New York clothes designer Donna Karan, who just a few years ago, unveiled her spring line of fashions while musical interpretations of Rumi’s work by the health writer Deepak Chopra played in the background. Composers Philip Glass and Robert Wilson have written “Monsters of Grace,” an operatic extravaganza that can be enjoyed with three-dimensional viewing glasses and a libretto of one hundred and fourteen Rumi poems interpreted by American poet Coleman Barks.
Quick-thinking American entrepreneurs seem to devise new means to capitalize on Rumi’s soaring popularity nearly every month. Recently, several versions of “Rumi cards,” a new method of fortune-telling, combining snippets of the poet’s work and aspects of the Tarot, have appeared in U.S. bookstores. And, for those who peruse the World Wide Web, it is possible to dial up “rumi.com” and be informed that, “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful, Jalalu’ddin Rumi.com is coming soon.”
Commercialism aside, the differences between the Islamic and Western view of Rumi probably become most apparent when exploring the subject of love, a central preoccupation of the poet’s work. Western readers have been captivated by Rumi’s frequent and masterful use of romantic imagery, which, coupled with the medieval lack of prudery have caused some to regard him chiefly as a “an erotic love poet”. Many are fascinated with Rumi’s mystic identification and all-encompassing spiritual love for his mentor Shams al-Din of Tabriz. Some construe this relationship as a conventional love affair, given Rumi’s frequent declarations of his overwhelming longing for Shams after Shams’ mysterious departure. Indeed, in 1998, the gay magazine The Advocate published a piece in which it was argued that Islamic scholars have obscured a likely gay relationship between the poet and Shams. Other Western readers are charmed by the lack of priggishness and the nearly Chaucerian quality contained in some of Rumi’s depictions of heterosexual couplings. Yes, odd indeed..
“For ages you have come and gone courting this delusion. For ages you have run from the pain and forfeited the ecstasy. So come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. Although you appear in earthly form Your essence is pure Consciousness. You are the fearless guardian of Divine Light. So come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. When you lose all sense of self the bonds of a thousand chains will vanish. Lose yourself completely, Return to the root of the root of your own soul. You descended from Adam, by the pure Word of God, but you turned your sight to the empty show of this world. Alas, how can you be satisfied with so little? so come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. Why are you so enchanted by this world when a mine of gold lies within you? Open your eyes and come --- Return to the root of the root of your own soul. You were born from the rays of God's Majesty when the stars were in their perfect place. How long will you suffer from the blows of a nonexistent hand? So come, return to the root of the rootof your own soul. You are a ruby encased in granite. How long will you decieve Us with this outer show? O friend, We can see the truth in your eyes! So come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. After one moment with that glorious Friend you became loving, radiant, and ecstatic. Your eyes were sweet and full of fire. Come, return to the root of the root of your own soul. Shams-e Tabriz, the King of the Tavern has handed you an eternal cup, And God in all His glory is pouring the wine. So come! Drink! Return to the root of the root of your own soul. Soul of all souls, life of all life - you are That. Seen and unseen, moving and unmoving - you are That. The road that leads to the City is endless; Go without head and feet and you'll already be there. What else could you be? - you are That.” ― Rumi